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Former café owners decide to pass shop down to employee rather than selling out
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When the Lozano sisters—co-owners of L’s Caffé, Gabby, Lourdes and Rosy—were growing up in Mexico City, their mother ran a soda fountain. In the afternoons when the girls would get out from school, they would come and help their mother at the shop. 

“We wanted something like that, similar to what my mother had,” remembers Lourdes. So they decided they would open their own coffee shop in the Mission. 

When L’s Caffé first opened its doors in November of 2005, they lacked the permits necessary for food preparation, so for the first three months they were in business, all they could sell was coffee and pastries. 

During the early days, the sisters’ parents played a pivotal role. “We’re a very tight family,” said Lourdes. “We will always have each other’s back.”

Their mother, Doña Martha Juárez “stood at the front door giving dripped coffee samples to pedestrians,” remembers Gabby. And their father, Don Alfredo Lozano, headed the remodeling project. 

When L’s Caffe opened, they, along with Philz Coffee, were the only two coffee shops on the 24th Street corridor. When Erick Argüello, then working to organize the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, first visited L’s, he was skeptical. “For us, it was like part of the gentrification, coffee shops can have that feel,” he remembers. 

But he soon saw that L’s was different. “We were nicely surprised that it was very family oriented, speaking Spanish, welcoming everyone.” And as L’s Caffé grew, so did its involvement in the community. 

As L’s Caffé grew, so did its involvement in the community. Not only did the Lozano sisters join the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors’ Association, but L’s became the epicenter for many of the strategic meetings that allowed the Association to grow and become the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District as we now know it. 

“It became a place where the community held court,” said Argüello. “We would meet there with city officials, with DPW, and have large community meetings.” There came a point when the Merchants and Neighbors Association was using the space so often “they would let us use the business that night, when they weren’t there, so we built that trust, over time, to the point where we had keys at times.”

Caffeine from L’s has fueled 15 years worth of community and cultural organizing, hosting  planning committees for events like Carnaval and the Cesar Chavez Parade. 

When David Campos announced he was running for District 9 Supervisor, he held his first party at L’s and “to this day continues to host meetings at least once a week” there, according to Gabby. 

For many years it also functioned as a cultural hub, its walls acting as a community gallery,  featuring the work of local artists working in acrylic, pastel and oil, “and even quilts handmade by [residents of] the 30th Street Senior Center,” remembers Gabby. “It was used as a live performance venue where grassroots cooperatives thrived,” she added.

After 15 years of sharing moments like these with their community, “I think we are all entering a different stage in our lives,” said Rosy.

Gabby has a rewarding job as the Business Liaison for the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, and her expertise in helping the community merchants keeps her in high demand. 

Lourdes and Rosy live in Oakley and Antioch, respectively, making it difficult to get to the coffee shop, and they both want to spend more time with their families. “I didn’t spend that much time with my kids for a long time,” said Rosy, who was pregnant with her first child when they signed the lease for the cafe back in 2005. 

For these reasons, earlier this year, the sisters made the difficult decision to sell the business. “Everything in life has an end,” said Rosy. “We had a good run.”

Family business

Initially, the Lozano sisters worked with a real estate agency to find a new owner. “The people that were coming had all these ideas about making it into an expensive place…they wanted to change it completely,” said Lourdes. 

The sisters didn’t like the idea of their space being taken up by a business that would further gentrify the corridor. 

“They’ve felt the impacts of gentrification,” said Argüello. “They’ve seen their clientele flip…the early customers that were all there, after three or four years they all disappeared and there was a whole other crowd coming in…they were acutely aware of what was happening.”

So the sisters dropped the real estate agent and realized the ideal successor of L’s Caffé had been right in front of them all along: an employee named Santos Lopez.

Lopez was 20 years old when he left Yucatán and arrived in the Mission, where he has lived since. That entire time he has worked in the restaurant industry, as do most of his relatives in San Francisco. 

When he started working at L’s almost three years ago, the sisters noticed his drive and initiative. “As an employee, I never had to tell him what to do, he would show up and just start doing,” said Lourdes. “He’s always trying to improve things.”

One day, Lourdes asked him if he had ever thought of opening his own business, and Lopez said he had. So Lourdes conferred with her sisters and they all agreed he was an ideal candidate.

They made Lopez an offer and he took about a month to think it through. “There are some opportunities that, when they present themselves, take them, because you don’t know if you’ll get another one,” said Lopez, who wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Risk Taker” during our interview. 

And since Santos, whose last name is Lopez, shares a last name initial with the Lozano sisters, he will be keeping the L’s Caffé name. “It was meant to be,” said Rosy. 

During the last few months of 2019, the Lozano sisters helped Lopez with the transition from employee to business owner, and in January he became the official owner of L’s Caffé.” 

While Lopez hopes to give the place his personal touch, “I don’t want to mess with a place that is already made, it has its own customers, and that’s plenty, I just want to add a few customers with some new things,” he said.

Now that neighbors and customers are starting to hear the news that the Lozano sisters are leaving, “They come and they cry… and it’s difficult for us because we love this place so much,” said Lourdes. 

“We put our souls and our hearts into what we did,” said Rosy.  “Gabby is very involved in the community and through her, we will continue being part of the culture and the whole Mission District … We’re not going away … Gabby will be making sure of that,” she added. 

“Support Santos, he’s a great person,” said Lourdes. “We’re grateful for these 15 years we were here, it was a wonderful experience… We’re sad, but also happy for having been here.” 

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